We all know of those lists which name Memphis as one of the worst: In Forbes’ mind, we are one of the most miserable cities. Other more objective surveys name us as one of the most obese, one of the poorest, one of the most violent, and most recently, the hunger capital of our country.
Enough already! We know there is work to be done and challenges to be met.
There have been a variety of responses, from a letter to Forbes from Mayor Wharton to grass roots efforts to celebrate all the good here in Memphis, to MIFA’s “Something Good in Memphis” campaign. This week’s “Memphis Flyer” cover article is about the Greening of Memphis, which ought to be lifted up and celebrated by all who care about our city.
Good stuff going on! But I want to highlight one of the best kept secrets that received a bit of attention last week.
Memphis Theological Seminary is one of the most unique theological institutions in the country, and recently they received a $1 million anonymous gift to begin a new campaign to bring the buildings and grounds up to the level that it deserves, including the possibility of a new chapel. Be looking for changes in the next year as you pass by the corner of Union and East Parkway. They have made a conscious decision to stay as an anchor in mid-town.
The effect MTS has on Memphis’ spiritual life is quiet but impressive. Several years ago after the Lester Street killings, some of Memphis’ leading clergy got together to form a response, which included a gathering of several thousand to worship at Mississippi Boulevard. As I looked at the diverse clergy that organized this, black and white, urban and suburban, from a number of religious traditions, I realized that they all had one thing in common: they all had some sort of connection with MTS. Some were alumni, others had taught there, but all were affiliated somehow with the seminary.
Though it is sponsored by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, one would be hard-pressed to find a more diverse setting anywhere in Memphis. We all talk about diversity and inclusivity, but Memphis Theological Seminary does it.
As one who has taught as an adjunct faculty there, I have never before been faced with such a wonderfully diverse group of students. One class I taught ranged from a white, older, high church Episcopalian to a young African-American Pentecostal woman from Mississippi! (When I told a preaching professor in Atlanta that I was teaching a course on preaching with that kind of diversity, he said “Steve, you aren’t teaching, you are refereeing!”)
Speaking of teaching, there are some faculty there who are simply the finest teachers I have ever witnessed. Men and women who are first and foremost teachers, and who interact with students with enthusiasm and passion. And it would be hard to find a president of any institution more suited to a position than President Jay Earhardt Brown.
So let others devise their lists of all that is wrong here in our fair city, but let us not forget one of the true gifts to Memphis which is often unheralded. That’s probably the way they would want it, for they care more about developing servant leaders than their own glory.